Although more than 90 per cent of the greenhouse cultivation of fruit and vegetables has shifted to hydroponics, there is currently no system available for densely grown baby leaf salads. Such a system would improve the efficiency of crop cultivation while providing improved control of pests and diseases. NIAB are hosting a workshop during Agri-Tech Week to look at the potential for growing baby leaf in this way.
Dr Lydia Smith comments: “Baby leaf salad is on the up-and-up in terms of their popularity in shops, and is commercially valuable. Within the Hy4Dense project, we are looking very specifically at whether it will be feasible to transfer these crops off the land and into a hydroponic, or at least a soil-free, hydroponic or aeroponic system – we don’t know what it’s going to look like yet, as we’re in the process of designing it.
“The input of stakeholders would be very interesting to help inform the design of a novel hydroponic cultivation system. For example, G’s already have an efficient production system and they are going to work with us to see whether it would be either logistically or economically feasible to make the change to hydroponics.
“It might be desirable to have different varieties of babyleaf and so we are working with plant breeders. Elsoms, who are a key UK plant breeder within this context, particularly for rocket and baby leaf spinach, will be talking about what their drivers are with respect to varietal types.
“The technology side is also important and Saturn Bioponics is an exciting company that is already manufacturing hydroponic systems, both in a sort of ebb-and-flow system and also a vertical tower system. So it will be an interesting discussion.”
Densely sown crops are economically important in the UK, Netherlands and Belgium, so the research collaboration is between the University of Essex and NIAB (UK), Howest and Inagro (Belgium) and Proeftuin Zwaagdijk (The Netherlands). Hy4Dense is a play on words – hydroponics for densely sown crops.
The overall objective of the project is to develop a soil-free cultivation system to grow densely sown crops (including lamb’s lettuce, spinach and rocket) by first developing, then upgrading early stage prototypes to efficient hydroponic growing systems.
This one of a series of events happening within Agri-Tech Week – more information here.
Agri-Tech Week Event: Friday 8th November
11.45 – 16.00: Baby leaf – a growing resource from field to tunnel – NIAB
Salad crops are required all year around, so delivering this cost-effectively without the need to import over the winter months will help improve the competitiveness of the industry. This Agri-Tech Week event at NIAB will look at evolving salad genetics, innovation in hydroponics, field cultivation of baby leaf, novel cultivation practices and market trends in this interactive workshop. To register click here.